This morning was one of those occasions which in years gone by I could only have dreamed of (had I ever been asleep long enough to do so).
I had to wake two out of my three children in order to get them ready for school on time.
Perhaps it doesn’t sound much to you, this concept of waking sleeping children. Perhaps it’s been your experience from day one; perhaps you had one of those cherub-like babies who found sleep a welcome friend, not a foe to be battled at all costs.
For something that we never had enough of in our house, Sleep was an omnipresent figure in our lives. We courted her, enticed her; carefully contrived dates between her and our children in the hope that they would discover a mutual pleasure in each others’ company. We would set the scene: soft lights, warm rooms, full tummies, predictable routines. We would watch for signs of interest: rubbed eyes, pulled ears, sometimes even the unguarded sign of defeat that was a yawn, and rush (without any appearance of haste) to engineer an encounter.
But despite all our attempts, Sleep was a fickle friend. She would dally a while, as eyelids drooped and breathing slowed, before suddenly remembering somewhere else that she had to be. Sometimes she would settle briefly, and we would slowly, slowly, slowly lower a slumbering babe into her cot, or creep away from the stilled pram. We grew expert at the infinitesimal stealing away of fingers and palms from below a soft, warm, be-nappied bottom, and more expert still in that sudden jerk, that tiny holding of breath that meant anew the heartbreak of desertion.
Lover-like, we hoarded the time Sleep spent with us, jealously totting up the hours that never felt enough. Where did she go, when she left us? Why wouldn’t she stay, when we had done all we could to make her welcome? What forced her to depart, long before dawn, while we knew that she lingered well into morning with our rivals?
These holidays, I’ve realised that the wooing was not in vain. Or rather, perhaps, that it is over.
We take Sleep more or less for granted, now; we know that, illness aside, she will be there at the end of the day, and that she’ll tarry till – if not noon – at least till children’s TV has started for the day.
We don’t matchmake between Sleep and our children any more. We kiss them goodnight and they meet her in their own time, not in our arms; they take their leave in the morning without needing the comfort of our presence to reconcile themselves to the breach. If there are spats or tiffs through the night, we’re no longer required to smooth things over, save for the occasional nightmare or the wide-eyed, bolt-upright, fast-asleep chatter of No2.
Things have changed so slowly, so imperceptibly, that the remembered 3am walks, the perching ready to chase after Sleep as she left, the falling into the pillowy, dreamless dark oblivion of the truly knackered feel like someone else’s story, not ours. I don’t miss the months and years of broken nights and gritty-eyed days; I can scarcely believe that I lived through them at all. After these two weeks of lie-ins, though; after gently shaking awake those same children at the hour of 7.30 who in previous years I was coaxing off for their first nap at that time, I realise again how quickly that total dependence on us – in some ways – is fading away.